An extract from 'Dying for a Home' from The First Dai and Julia Omnibus.
Less than an hour later Dai and Bryn were drinking in a downmarket dive across town from the Titus insulae. The Dog and Onion was a taberna in what constituted the ‘bad’ side of Viriconium. It shared a street with several nightclubs and most of the local residents could be assumed to be the kind who were not going to be earning their living by methods that were ethical even if they were occasionally legal.
Heads turned to see who had come in and one or two people quietly stood up and began making their way out. Dai was pleased to see that Bryn was getting well known in this community. His own status was probably too far beyond the horizon of these individuals’ social vision for them to know who he was by sight. Besides, as always when he was out doing groundwork, Dai had dressed down.
They took a seat by the main door and Bryn nodded to the woman who was serving behind the bar.
“She’s half of what counts for organised crime in this city. Aoife Broanan. She and her daughters.”
Aoife was in late middle age, overweight and with the hard eyed smile that Dai knew all too well from his years fighting crime in Londinium. She must have seen them arrive because once she had finished with the customer she was serving she came over and sat at their table. She glanced at Dai in brief assessing appreciation of his good looks, then fixed her attention on Bryn.
“Nice to see you SI Cartivel, what you doing here ruining my trade today?”
“Looking for someone, Aoife,” Bryn told her and showed her the three faces on his wristphone.
She pursed her lips and scowled. “Never seen them before. Sorry, can’t help you. But drinks on the house for all vigiles as usual.”
A moment later she was stalking back to the bar with a grace that seemed to belie her bulk.
“That went well,” Dai observed.
Bryn beamed back at him. “Better than I hoped.”
“I suppose it is good to have low expectations, then you are never disappointed. Shall we go?”
“What? And miss a free drink? We vigiles have a reputation to keep up Bard. Start turning down free drinks and next it’ll be no free sandwiches at lunchtime.”
Dai wondered what he was missing, but years of working with Bryn as his right hand had taught him to trust that there was something more here than he could see. So he sat back in his chair and smiled.
“You make a very good point. I hope the wine they have here is worth drinking.”
“The brandy is better. Local stuff.” Bryn’s eyes held high humour, but his face was straight. And Dai had to admit there was more than a touch of irony to think that this den of thieves was selling brandy produced by his own brother.
The drinks arrived, two shots of brandy in deep bellied glasses, brought over by Aoife in person and she set the tray down with a brief smile at Dai.
“Not seen you in here before, but if you come by again on your own sometime know you can have a warm welcome.”
“Now, Aoife, don’t go corrupting more of my vigiles,” Bryn chastised her. The woman turned her smile to embrace them both then winked and went back over to the bar. The brandy was indeed recognisable as Llewellyn produce, albeit one of the cheaper distillations. Bryn drank his in a couple of quick swigs and got to his feet.
“We’ve not got all day, you know, need to at least look like we’re making an effort to find these people. The Submagistratus is not going to be a happy man if word gets to him we’ve been lazing around in here.”
Dai downed the rest of his drink in one and followed Bryn out of the taberna and back onto the streets of Viriconium.
“So what was that all about?” Dai asked as they were getting into their all-wheeler. Bryn grinned at him and reached into a pocket to pull out a beermat decorated on one side with a local brewery’s logo and flipped it round so Dai could see the other side where the printed image had been pulled back to reveal a neat hand-blocked address.
“I think your baby blues touched our Aoife’s heart, Bard.” Then he ducked to avoid Dai’s fist.
The Dai and Julia Mysteries are written by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook